Leave the Space Needle in the dust: 10 local favorites in Seattle
While it’s not quite Oz, Seattle’s abundance of greenery certainly justifies the city’s Emerald City monicker. Follow the advice of these 10 residents and get out of the touristy hubbub of Pike Place Market and the Space Needle and take advantage of all that nature. From kayaking past floating homes to hiking through forested valleys, we've got the local scoop on the best outdoorsy things to do in and around the city.
1. Explore Lake Union at Surface Level
Barbara Joseph, a wine tour manager at EverGreen Escapes (which offers tours of local vineyards and breweries), recommends a midday paddle session on Lake Union. “Start at the Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club, where you can grab a burrito to go in your kayak rental,” says Joseph. “Paddle towards Gas Works Park (a former coal gasification plant), where you'll pass by the floating homes seen in “Sleepless in Seattle” and eventually get a view of the city skyline.
“It will take you about 30 minutes to paddle to the north side of the lake,” says Joseph. “Float leisurely in your kayak while nibbling on your burrito. Pause to take in the scenery and watch the seaplanes take off and land.”
2. Hit The Trails of Discovery Park
To have a nature-rich experience within city limits, Glenn Tachiyama, an employee at Seven Hills Running Shop, recommends visiting Discovery Park. “Discovery Park is Seattle's largest urban park, with spectacular views overlooking Magnolia Bluff across the Puget Sound.”
For the avid runner, this park is paradise. “It includes a network of trails that take you through forests, meadows, ponds, and you can venture down to the beach,” says Tachiyama. If the tide is low enough, jog the 5-mile stretch along the beach between Discovery Park and Carkeek Park, and then make your way back the same way.
3. Watch The Real Seattle Go By at Green Lake Park
Michael Luis, executive director of The Center for Wooden Boats, enjoys visiting Seattle’s Green Lake Park for a variety of land and water sports: running or walking 2.5 miles around the lake, swimming, renting boats to fish, or just relaxing on a park bench. “Few tourists come to Green Lake, so visitors can see the real Seattle in this very popular park,” says Luis. “The Green Lake path has some of Seattle’s best people-watching, and there are a number of eateries on the northeast side of the lake.”
For a great view and a delicious meal, dine at nearby Nell’s Restaurant. The emphasis here is on freshness. The menu is new each night, and most of the ingredients are locally sourced.
4. Tee off and savor a craft brew at Interbay Golf Center
“On a sunny summer day, Interbay Golf is a perfect place to grab a locally-crafted beer and bust out your best Tiger Woods skills,” says Tia Harvey, events coordinator at Xperience Adventures. “They offer happy hour between 3 and 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, which includes mini golf and a pint of beer for $11.”
“If mini golf isn't your thing and you just want to hit some balls at the driving range, they offer a large bucket of balls and a pitcher of beer for $18.” Either way you’ll enjoy views from the course of evergreen trees interspersed with building silhouettes—the seamless combination of nature and urban life that Seattle does so well.
5. Use Pedal Power to experience Vashon Island at sunrise
Vashon Island’s natural landscape is always enough to motivate Neil Wechsler, owner of Montlake Bicycle Shop, to make the trip there. “Vashon Island is a short ferry ride away from west Seattle,” said Wechsler. “I love going there because even though it’s so close to the city, it’s completely rural. That makes it an excellent place for spotting eagles, osprey, various ducks, herons, and other water birds.”
Insider tip: Rise early and bike to the ferry. “By far the most enjoyable time to go on rides in the city is at sunrise,” says Wechsler. “Everything is beautiful and the traffic is minimal.”
6. Trek the slopes of Rattlesnake Ledge
Seattle has a vibrant park scene, but some of the best trails are outside city limits. “For a stunning view of a forested valley and azure-blue lake, try Rattlesnake Ledge,” says Kathleen Richards, managing editor of The Stranger, Seattle’s Pulitzer-prize winning alt-weekly. Less than an hour's drive from the city, "it's a very popular trail, so avoid it during the weekends (especially during the summer months),” advises Richards.
Although it's only 4 miles out-and-back, this mountain hike can still be a challenge. “Most hiking guides describe it as an easy hike, suitable for kids, and while I have seen children hiking it, it's much more intense than that description would have you believe,” says Richards. “You will definitely be sweating as you hike up, up, up through a dense forest to reach the ledge, a rocky outcropping with a vertigo-inducing drop to the valley floor.”
7. Savor some island flavor at Marination Ma Kai
Roen Ako of Taste Seattle Food Tours, which offers a culinary tour of Seattle, knows what she is talking about when it comes to the city’s food scene. Her favorite restaurant? Marination Ma Kai in West Seattle. “I was born and raised on the Big Island of Hawai'i. Whenever I get homesick, I like to indulge in their aloha sliders, Spam musubi, and mac salad with Spam,” says Ako. Order one of several Washington brews on tap and take a seat on the waterfront patio. “There’s nothing like enjoying the city skyline on a nice summer evening,” she says.
If West Seattle is going to be a trek, check out the restaurant’s other location on Harvard Avenue. Another is opening in Columbia City in the fall. Or find the restaurant’s food truck in Pioneer Square on Wednesdays, at the Starbucks Headquarters on Thursdays, and in the International District on Fridays.
8. Life is short: Drink really, really good coffee
“Drink lots and lots of coffee. Not Starbucks, but the good stuff,” says ZOZI team member and Washington native Darcy Lloyd. In the city that many refer to as the world’s coffee capital, Lloyd is fond of a number of independent roasters and shops, namely Espresso Vivace, Zoka Coffee, Cafe Solstice, and Trabant Coffee and Chai.
Want to keep your brew options open? Go from coffee to happy hour beers at Cafe Solstice. “They play fun but loud music and the eclectic decor makes it a cozy spot to spend a few hours.” Order a sandwich on housemade bread and sink into one of the cafe’s comfy couches.
For a more low-key social environment, try Trabant. “The cafe is famous for its chai and homemade flavor syrups,” says Lloyd. “My favorite treat is the Mexican mocha.” There are also a bunch of games on hand (including crowd-favorite Jenga), making it a fun place to hang out with friends. Head upstairs if you want a more peaceful atmosphere.
9. Let Bainbridge Island Ease Your Stress
“Definitely take the ferry to Bainbridge Island,” says Leo Fischer, company manager at the outdoor adventure company, AdventureTerra. The former logging camp turned quaint seaside village offers a great view of the area.
On Saturday mornings from mid-April through mid-December, sample culinary treats at the Bainbridge Island Farmers’ Market. Purchase raspberries and strawberries in the spring and summer, pumpkins and corn in the fall, and delicious locally-made honey all-year long.
10. Wander around some massive art installations
Cary Griffin, a sales manager at Gregg’s Cycles, suggests biking through the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park along the Ship Canal Trail. The park includes such monumental pieces as a 39-foot-high abstracted eagle by Alexander Calder, Richard Serra’s steel “Wake,” which evokes rusting battleships, and a giant typewriter eraser by Pop artist Claes Oldenburg.
If that’s not intriguing enough, “this park holds our Hempfest Festival, largest in the country, and has a beach, fishing spots, and epic views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains,” says Griffin.
Explore Seattle like a local with ZOZI
Check out Seattle's underground scene on AdventureTerra's tour of abandoned mines in the Olympic Mountains. Toss back a few pints on the Seattle Craft Brewery Tour with EverGreen Escapes or sample culinary favorites on Taste Seattle Food Tours. Whatever your interests, we've got the activities.